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NC House committee approves repeal of controversial death investigation records legislation

Bill would also remove “sunset” on law that allows wearing of face masks

The North Carolina House Committee on Rules and Operations voted today to remove controversial language in Senate Bill 168 involving death investigations records.

The otherwise uncontroversial bill, which adds some technical modifications to laws pertaining to the Department of Health and Human Services and its block grant funding, passed nearly unanimously in the House and Senate. (Rep. Allison Dahle, D-Wake, was the sole “no” vote.)

The controversial portion of the bill would prevent “all information and records provided by a city, county, or other public entity to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or its agents, concerning a death investigation” from becoming public record unless the records “otherwise constituted public records while in the possession of the city, county, or other public entity.”

In a press conference last Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper called the provision “concerning.”

As public knowledge of the death records provision grew over the last week, Cooper has faced pressure to veto the bill in its entirety. If Cooper does not veto it by midnight tonight, it will become law with or without his signature. It should be noted, however, that the bill would not become effective until October 1.

A petition started by the Triad Abolition Project of Winston-Salem calling on Cooper to veto the bill received more than 8,000 signatures and was delivered to the governor’s office earlier today.

**[UPDATE: Gov. Cooper vetoed the bill Monday evening, saying that while he believed the provision had not been proposed with any “ill intent,” the concerns raised subsequent to its passage “make it clear this provision should not become law.”]**

“We believe SB168 not only obfuscates law enforcement involvement in the deaths of those they have in custody, but it also shields and protects law enforcement from being held accountable for deaths of civilians who are incarcerated, arrested, and detained,” the petition states.

The bill has also been the subject of protests in Winston-Salem and Raleigh as national debate around police accountability continues to rage.

Senate Bill 232, a bill that was originally written to require tracking of information on services provided to veterans, service members, and their families, was placed on today’s calendar for the House Rules Committee with the intent to replace the bill’s text with language that would repeal the death investigation records provision. It passed the committee without debate.

If both SB 168 and SB 232 become law, the death investigation records provision in SB 168 will immediately be repealed.

An amendment to the new SB 232 also extends the law that would allow people to wear masks for public health reasons.

A 1950s North Carolina rule targeting the KKK forbids wearing a mask in public. Lawmakers voted to suspend that law until August 1 earlier this year because of public health mandates to wear a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19. An early morning vote on June 26 removed a provision to extend that suspension, raising concerns that it might be illegal to publicly wear a face mask in the middle of a pandemic.

The new amendment removes the August 1 date of expiration on the suspension.

SB 232 now goes to the House floor.

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